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Posts Tagged ‘mercy’


One of my congregants was born in another country, and another branch of the family of faith. When they moved to America and joined our congregation there was much that was new to her. One thing in particular was Covenant Theology.

Covenants Made Simple: Understanding God's Unfolding Promises to His PeopleShe and her husband were listening to Ligon Duncan’s lectures on the subject but was wondering if there was a book I could recommend. Months earlier I had picked up Covenants Made Simple: Understanding God’s Unfolding Promises to His People on sale. It came highly recommended by others. I hadn’t read it yet but lent them my copy. It turned out to be one of her favorite books of the year. As a result, I read it (at the time we were thinking of writing a middle school curriculum on Covenant Theology).

The book is appropriately named. To be fair I’ve read many of the key books on the subject, but Rhodes does keep it simple. He doesn’t duck controversies, but neither does he get bogged down in them. He doesn’t use technical language because this is intended to be for the average person in the pews. He succeeds, as indicated by the many recommendations I’ve seen online. The book includes a number of helpful diagrams (not charts!) to illustrate his point in a given chapter. These visual aids supplement the text nicely.

Covenants are often misunderstood. They are about relationships. One of the more famous definitions is O. Palmer Robertson’s “bond in blood”. The problem with that is it doesn’t work for the first covenant in Scripture. Nor the eternal covenant between the Father and Son if you hold to that (I do). Jonty Rhodes seeks to get at covenants through a series of questions (good questions) that bring us to the ultimate questions of how can I know God’s promises are reliable.

He begins in the Garden with what is commonly called The Covenant of Works. But he begins that chapter in the Upper Room and Jesus’ mention of the blood of the covenant. We can’t really understand Jesus’ death if we don’t understand covenants. Covenants are throughout Scripture, and Rhodes rightly notes “Covenant is the theme that links the different books of the Bible to make them one united story.” But, you might say, the Bible is about Jesus. Yes, and He reveals what He’s going to do through those covenants.

The word occurs more than 300 times. While it is connected to the word “to cut” we see from its use and context that “a covenant is a conditional promise.” Or to flesh it out some more, he says “A covenant is an agreement between God and human beings, where God promises blessings if the conditions are kept and threatens curses if the conditions are broken.” This doesn’t mean there aren’t covenants between nations or individuals (David and Jonathan made a covenant of friendship) but our focus is on the biggies that shape the Scripture.

Now Rhodes goes back to the Garden. God has created, separated and filled creation. He made Adam and Eve in His image to fill, subdue and rule it. These creation mandates involve marriage & family, work and study, arts and sciences. In addition to these positive commands about how they are to spend their time, we see the provision of food to sustain them. There was one negative command, that one tree whose fruit they couldn’t eat. Keep the commands and this Garden temple will grow to fill the earth to God’s glory, but break them and they ruin everything. The Bible never mentions that this comprises a covenant but we see commands, prohibitions and sanctions anyway (as well as the historical prologue of creation). We also see, Rhodes notes, the reality of Adam as a covenant or federal head in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. How can we properly understand how all humanity fell in Adam apart from a covenant? If we rule that out, we rule out the means of salvation with Jesus as the head of the new covenant.

As Rhodes notes, plenty of people don’t like the term covenant of works. Other terms used are covenant of life or covenant of creation. There doesn’t seem to be any grace in works. Adam did receive all kinds of benefits in creation without initially earning them. Continuing in them was a different story. But this intramural debate doesn’t interest him much.

The greatness of the Garden didn’t last long. Adam ruined it for himself, and all of us. His actions have affected every single human being who has lived, is living and will live. He is literally the most (or 2nd most) influential person ever. The second chapter engages us in Satan’s assault on God through His image, Adam. When he sins, the curse breaks out. God is applying the sanctions of the covenant, not having a conniption of divine proportions. The curses affect the creation mandates: our filling, subduing and ruling. Each is not attended with futility and failure, pain and problems.

Yet we see mercy as well. God did not simply execute these traitors, he let the live. But He also have them a promise that someone would come to set things right again. Rhodes also gets to the more “theological” aspects of the curse that need to be dealt with: guilt, grime (internal corruption) and the grave.

His third chapter brings us back to the reality of covenant conflict, or rather the conflict in the OT seen through the lens of the covenant. Satan continues his war on God’s people in an attempt to thwart the seed of the woman. The conflict is frequently one of words, with the false messages of the Evil One continuing. Here he address the covenant with Noah. He slips in a little about common grace since this covenant is not specifically about salvation but provides the stage for redemption. It also mirrors the creation mandates and promises. Like Adam, this “second” Adam sins and fails to bring comfort to God’s people.

This brings Rhodes, and us, to the covenant with Abraham (his new name by virtue of the covenant). The seed of the woman will come through Abraham’s line. God promises a great name (unlike Babel which sought to make a great name for itself), great people and to bring a great blessing to the nations. God will repair the damage done by Adam, but through Abraham’s promised seed. The covenants progressively reveal God’s promises to His people. They are rightly seen as building upon one another rather than disconnected from one another.

The Mosaic covenant is one that continues to perplex people today. Is it reflective of the covenant of grace, the covenant of works or does it have elements of both?

It arises because God has been keeping His promises to Abraham about a great nation, and is about to fulfill His promise about the land. Their redemption from slavery helps form a gracious background to this covenant. Yet, like the covenant of creation it seems very much about how to remain in the land, or be removed from the land for prolonged & persistent disobedience. We should see the sacrifices as provisional until the Seed comes. This covenant doesn’t lay aside the promise, and like Abraham they were accounted righteous by faith. Like Abraham they were also to walk uprightly before Him (Gen. 17). To think that conditions, or holiness, reflect back upon the covenant of worship seems to be mistaken. Rhodes puts it this way, the covenants with Abraham and Moses are the same girl in a different dress. To put it another way: while obedience doesn’t produce salvation, salvation produces obedience.

The next development is the covenant with David. God narrows down the line for the seed further. The skull crusher will come from David. We see here, as well, God’s conditionality. If a particular son disobeys, he will be disciplined. But there is the son who will set all things right. Just as David disobeyed at times, Solomon gets distracted by girls, gods and gold. David’s line is more failure than faithfulness until the Babylonian exile.

In the chapter of the New Covenant, Rhodes addresses the newness of the covenant. He also draws out the consistency of the New Covenant with the previous ones. It has the same promises, not different promises. He also develops and already-not yet approach to this covenant. We see forgiveness as well as holiness. We see the promise of a new heart and the Spirit. We see the familiar promise that “they will by My people and I will be their God.” Like the earlier covenants, they are all about salvation, not simply forming a nation with land. Those served the purposes of redemption and the boundaries are about to be expanded. The Gentiles doesn’t replace the Jews, but are grafted onto the vine (or more properly, Vine). We are admitted into the true Israel.

It is here that he finally addresses the question of the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son. This is alluded to in many Scriptures, particularly in John’s Gospel. The Father makes a conditional promise to the Son: He will give Him a people for His pain. Jesus fulfills the covenant of works for their salvation. It will not be wasted work based on the promise of people given to Him. This brings us to the doctrine of election. It also brings us to double imputation and union with Christ. The covenants are not an isolated doctrine but inform a number of doctrines.

He further explores these in covenant salvation which explores the role of each member of the Trinity in salvation, previously agreed upon. The Father chooses, the Son dies & intercedes, and the Spirit applies that salvation to the people chosen by the Father at the appointed time. This brings us to the doctrine of limited or particular atonement. It is best understood with the framework of the covenant. He brings this forward to the question of assurances. Aside from this covenantal understanding of salvation we lose the grounds of assurance.

Rhodes then explores the covenant people further with a view toward church government. He provides an interesting approach. Congregationalism is like a bunch of self-governing circles, lots of churches but seemingly no Church. The Presbyterian form of government sees a chain, self-governing congregations that are joined to for a Church. The Episcopal form is a pyramid with all under the authority of one head on earth who mediates that power through bishops to pastors and congregations. From here he moves into the visible and invisible churches and then into the question of infant baptism. The covenant is essential for understanding the church and sacraments properly.

The last chapter returns to covenant life, how the covenant informs our experience of life in the Church and the church. We receive the promised Holy Spirit (promised explicitly in the New Covenant but discussed by Paul in terms of the Abrahamic covenant in Galatians) who produces obedience in us. This is because the Spirit unites us to Jesus. He briefly touches upon the law and gospel distinction.

We discover that this book about covenants brings us to consider much of theology. They are not isolated but form the structure of Scripture and therefore theology. This is a book well-worth studying. It is worthy of recommendation to your people. It may not dig as deep into some controversies as someone may like, we see the breadth of issues that may interest people. This is not a plunge into the deep end but like wading into the pool while inviting people to swim in the deep end when they choose.

 

 

 

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In our day and age humility is not seen as a blessing. We live in the age of the big ego. This is the dawning of the age of narcissism. Our social media usage seems to stroke our pride as we seek after likes.

IThe Blessing of Humility: Walk Within Your Calling‘m aware of the irony. I’m writing this on a blog, part of social media, hoping people will read it. But I’m hoping they will go beyond this blog post to the book I’m writing about: The Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges.

Jerry Bridges has written many books that I’ve found helpful in the course of my life as a Christian and a pastor. This is one of the last books he wrote prior to his death. I was unaware of its release until seeing it in a clearance sale. Good for me, but a sad reflection on society and even American church culture. This is a book too many of us need to read.

Pride is like bad breath, everyone knows you have it before you do. The struggle against pride is one that is a daily affair, if we are paying attention. Over time I’ve read a few books on the topic including Humility: the Forgotten Virtue by Wayne Mack, and Humility by C.J. Mahaney. I used Mack’s book for our Men’s study at one point.

In Bridges’ book, he looks at the Beatitudes as a description of humility. Humility is one of the twin traits of mature Christianity. The other is love.

Bridges notes that in Jesus’ day, humility was looked down upon in Roman culture, the dominant culture of the day. Before moving into the Beatitudes, he addresses some key texts including 1 Peter 5 which joins precepts and promises.

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,…

Humility is the metaphorical clothing we should wear as we appear in public. We are to be humble in our relationships with others and with God, in keeping with the two great commandments upon which hang the whole law. While humility seems off-putting and working against our advancement in life, God offers promises of grace and glory for those who humble themselves in this way. There is promised blessing for humility.

Bridges view of the Beatitudes is one of what a sanctified person looks like. While our failure to possess these characteristics as we should points us to Jesus who perfectly manifested them for imputed righteousness, we must not stop there. Like Mark Jones, Bridges sees this as a description of imparted righteousness in sanctification. The Beatitudes reflect whom Jesus is making us as He conforms us to His likeness. Thus we are to seek these traits and therefore humility.

“In the Beatitudes Jesus is talking about the character traits of those already in the kingdom.”

In this relatively short book, just under 150 pages, he explains teach character trait and ties it to humility. With short chapters it can be read devotionally. It contains a study guide in the back for group study or personal reflection and application of the material.

What we find is not an exhaustive book, but certainly a helpful book. It is not very technical, assuming a knowledge of the original languages or lots of theological terminology. It is written for ordinary people to study. He often connects the ideas he is exploring with hymns that express those sentiments. It is rich in Scripture and hymnody.

Humility is poor in spirit. We recognize that we are spiritually destitute and unable to please God in ourselves. Our struggle with sin is far more profound than we realize, and realizing that is half the battle. Maturity means increasing in our awareness of this ongoing struggle. Our focus shifts from our actions to our attitudes and thoughts.

It is because we are still practicing sinners that we mourn. We mourn our spiritual poverty. We aren’t simply aware of our continuing sinfulness but broken hearted about our continuing rebellion.

Meekness points us to the humility of accepting the difficult circumstances in our lives as part of God’s wise, loving providence. Following Thomas Watson (for Bridges loved the Puritans as well as hymns) he applies meekness toward other people in terms of “bearing of injuries, the forgiving of injuries, and the returning of good for evil.” We will all be subject to the sins of others against us. Humility does not retaliate but bears, forgives (!) and bestows good. This is so contrary to our prideful flesh what strikes out, bears grudges and tries to destroy the offender. Our words are often weapons we use against them.

“Meekness is a defining grace, produced by the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian, which characterizes that person’s response towards God and man.”

We also have a hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be personally righteous. Such hunger and thirst is not so we don’t need Jesus but so we are like Jesus and bring Him glory. Prideful righteousness, religiosity, is an attempt at self-salvation. It is in this section in particular that Bridges distinguishes between positional and personal (what he calls experiential) righteousness. If I am a Christian I need not hunger and thirst for positional righteousness. I have it! But I do for personal righteousness.

Jesus then moved to mercy, and so did Bridges. He develops the idea of mercy as compassion in action. It is not simply empathy but moving to relieve misery as seen in Isaiah 58 among other places. Part of mercy is remembering the sins of others no more. This is not forgetting but choosing not to bring those sins up against them anymore. This happens only as we see the fact that God no longer remembers our many and grievous sins.

Bob Dylan plays a guitar and sings into a microphone.Another aspect of humility is purity of heart or whole-heartedness. He ties this into the fact that we are not our own but have been bought with a price. We are property of Jesus, as Bob Dylan sang long ago. Purity of heart recognizes this and seeks to see all of life through that lens.

Conflict is regularly addressed in Scripture. When I recently preached through Philippians I was shocked to discover how much this “epistle of joy” was marked by conflict. As someone going through a prolonged conflict, I found hope as well as conviction as I struggled to preach through such a “simple” letter. Humility seeks peace, and makes peace. Peacemaking is very difficult and goes against all our basic inclinations to seek peace on our terms. In other words, there complete surrender.

“To be a peacemaker, then, means we absorb the hurtful words or actions of others without becoming resentful, retaliating, or even cutting off a relationship with the person.”

Humility is revealed in how we respond to being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. While it is appropriate for American Christians to seek protection in our earthly citizenship (Paul, as Bridges notes, appealed to his Roman citizenship at times) we should recognize that our courts system will fail us eventually. We may lose our rights as the tide rises against Christianity. While experiencing hostility, we are not to be hostile but humble. Bridges reminds to entrust ourselves to our Creator, like Jesus, and continue to do good in keeping with 1 Peter 2.

He ends with humility and the gospel. He channels his inner Jack Miller and talks about preaching the gospel to himself and yourself every day. The gospel is not simply the door we walk through to begin life as a Christian but the path we walk as Christians. Humility only grows in gospel soil.

“It is the gospel that will keep us from becoming discourage and will instead motivate us to keep pursuing humility, even when we fail so often.”

This little book is gospel-drenched. That means it is encouraging, not discouraging. Our failures are opportunities to look to Jesus, not a call to despair or simply try harder. The humble and meek Jesus is ready to pardon and help us. Humility keeps coming to Jesus as our only hope. As we do this we find ourselves no better than others, in part because we are not focused on their sins so much. Our sins, and theirs, drive us to Jesus who deals with us as a wonderful, merciful Savior.

This is a book worth the time to read and think about.

 

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Last year at this time I was preaching through Jonah. I wish I had Tim Keller’s latest book at the time. The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy should raise any controversy with the title. I’m sure there will be plenty to annoy some. But I loved reading this book.

The book is dedicated to John Newton whose life and ministry made a big impact on Keller. Those familiar with Newton’s writings will find his influence in many places.

He makes two passes through the book, exploring the themes that are found there. The first pass (9 chapters) handles the text sequentially. The second goes back through thematically to address our relationship to God’s Word, God’s world and God’s grace.

It is in Keller’s typical winsome style that points out where we tend to go wrong whether to the left or the right. He’s an equal opportunity offender, but it is so gentle I don’t understand how people get so mad at him. He’s generally right.

In the introduction he alludes to one of his other books. In the first half of the book Jonah is like the younger brother who goes to the far country to avoid his father. In the second half he’s like the angry older brother who is upset about the Father’s joy in repentance.

Jonah stands out as the willfully disobedient prophet to a willfully disobedient people. He is the representative Israelite. Jonah doesn’t trust God. He doesn’t trust that God has his best interests in mind. He is so like, … us.

“And that is the problem facing Jonah, namely, the mystery of God’s mercy. It is a theological problem, but it is at the same time a heart problem. … The story of Jonah, with all its twists and turns, is about how God takes Jonah, sometimes by the hand, other times by the scruff of the neck, to show him these things.”

Keller starts with the storms of life. “All sin has a storm attached to it.” (btw: I read people who claim Keller never talks about sin, or uses the word. What are they talking about?!) Jonah’s disobedience brought a literal storm not only into his life but the lives of the Gentile sailors. Sin’s storms don’t remain isolated to the particular sinner in question. “Sin is the suicidal action of the will upon itself.” He does clarify that most storms are from the condition of sin, meaning that we live in a fallen world and we don’t need to find the particular sin/sinner behind each hurricane, flood or drought. But know that when we sin, there are often earthly consequences.

For the Christian, the storms of life (afflictions) are meant to produce good. He is at work in this storm to bring Jonah to Ninevah for them to receive mercy. For example, I saw a recent interview with Donna Rice who experienced a storm of publicity due to her affair with Senator Gary Hart. She said that the storm brought her back to her Christian faith.

Next Keller explores the idea of who our neighbor is. These Gentiles are better human beings than the prodigal prophet. God is using the disobedient prophet to lead Gentiles to faith and repentance through his disobedience. Jonah only wants to see himself as an Israelite, as part of a faith community. He needs to also see himself as part of humanity, the broader community. Frankly, Christians have the same problem. We don’t have much concern with those around us as long as our lives are going okay. And so Keller explores common grace.

He then moves into the “other”, the question of identity and those who have a different identity than we do. Jonah’s national identity blinded him in many ways. The early church would struggle with the same problem. We use that identity to exclude other people unnecessarily. We dehumanize people who don’t share our ethnic, national or political identities. We’ve seen this as one of the early steps in the holocaust and other genocides (Rwanda, Armenian etc.). This was very helpful as I preached thru Philippians 3 and the false identities we can boast in.

Keller moves to the pattern of love, and the heart of the gospel with substitution. Jonah is a type of Jesus who would die for our sins instead of sins of his own. The storm of God’s merciful wrath (the phrase I used in my sermons, adapted by a phrase of Luther’s) is stilled.

“To deny God’s wrath upon sin not only robs us of a full view of God’s holiness and justice but also can diminish our wonder, love, and praise at what it was that Jesus bore for us.”

In this context he connects wrath with love too. God’s wrath is directed at actions (and people) who harm what He loves. He again clearly articulates the gospel contrary to what the discernment blogs claim about him.

The Gentile sailors end up offering praise and sacrifices to YHWH after the storm is stilled. Keller notes the irony in that Jonah sought to avoid bringing truth to Gentiles, aka wicked pagans, but actually does anyway.

Image result for jonahHe then delves deeper into grace as Jonah wrestles with God in the belly of the fish. He’s gone as low as he can go (the literary irony) because he didn’t go up to Ninevah. Jonah “does business” with God only when he can no longer run from God. He’s trapped and finally admits the ugly truth. Often God has to bring us to similar places before, like addicts, we admit we’ve made a complete mess of things by our disobedience and can’t fix it.

With Jonah finally going to Ninevah, the discussion moves to repentance. They repented of their injustice, and moved toward justice. They were a violent, oppressive people. Repentance meant turning away from their violence and oppression. When the gospel calls us out of sin, it also calls us out of injustice. This is Keller’s connection between the gospel and “social justice”. He’s not preaching a social gospel, but the gospel of Christ’s penal, substitutionary atonement with implications for justice in society. He’s not preaching a privatized faith nor a civil faith or religion. Personal faith is lived out in society as well as the community of faith.

With God relenting another storm arises, this time in Jonah’s heart. He’s beyond angry. In Jonah’s mind, relenting from destruction means the inevitable destruction of Israel. He’s blind to Israel’s sin, apparently, just as we tend to be to our sin and the sin of our communities.

God responds with patience and instruction. He is not only concerned about Israel, but all these people who also bear His image. He even cares about the livestock. That’s who He is. Unlike Jonah, Jesus wept over Jerusalem over the impending destruction for its wickedness.

“They want a “God of love,” but a God of love who does not get angry when evil destroys the creation he loves is ultimately not a loving God at all. If you love someone, you must and will get angry if something threatens to destroy him or her.”

Both God’s righteousness and His love are functions of His goodness! We don’t play them against one another but embrace them both as grounded in His goodness. So, this same God can justify the wicked because He loved them in sending His Son as a propitiation for their sin. Jesus satisfied His righteousness and His love. He didn’t satisfy His righteousness so God was then free to love.

Keller then moves to the three final themes of his book. Like Jonah (following Adam and Eve) we struggle to believe God’s Word is good for us. We minimize His wisdom and magnify ours. We trust our word over His.

“Sin always begins with the character assassination of God. We believe that God has put us in a world of delights but has determined that he will not give them to us if we obey him.”

Keller defends the substitutionary atonement from the charge of “divine child abuse” as infamously made by Steven Chalke. That charge does damage to the Trinity, not simply atonement. The one God in three persons works to save us. Jesus is not some lesser being offered to change the mind of an angry deity.

IImage result for dodo birdn terms of our relationship to God’s world he returns the question of our neighbor. Calvin, he notes, reminded us that all our neighbors bear the image of God and we must remember that. Keller applies this to politics. We must find a way between the erroneous beliefs that we should just preach the gospel and avoid politics, or that politics is all-important. The two party system tries to push a “package deal” on us instead of allowing us to vote “a la carte”. Pro-life Democrats are going the way of the dodo. But this doesn’t mean that Jesus is a Republican. They have anti-Christian views too. The gospel of the One who died for us when we were His enemies, calls us out of our partisanship and demonization of the other side. Loved by One we hated, we can begin to love ones we hated.

Keller moves into how privileged status can play out in perverting justice. The same laws should apply to all within a society. He mentions “citizens over immigrants” without any mention of their legal or illegal status as immigrants (I think this matters in light of Romans 13). But immigrants and other vulnerable groups should not be taken advantage of by the powerful. Christians, who worship a just God, should care about justice.This is not at the expense of the God but on account of the gospel.

“We must realize that since all our social problems stem from our alienation from God, the most radical and loving thing you can do for a person is to see him or her reconciled to God.”

IImage result for c.s. lewisn our relationship to God’s grace Keller clearly puts a changed life as a result of salvation, not the cause of salvation. In this it differs from every other religion. Here he explores Lewis’ The Four Loves to discuss our attachment to our people and culture. Lewis affirms a love for our people, but notes “We all know now that this love becomes a demon when it becomes a god.” Love of country is not the same a fascism or racism. Lewis rejects anti-patriotism as extremism just as he rejected any nationalism that begins to denigrate and destroy those who are different. [It is important to understand what is meant when someone uses the term ‘nationalism’. It can simply refer to the love of country that is normal for most people, and not the political movement used to justify the supremacy of a nation.] When do you know love of country has gone toxic? When it ignores the blemishes of its past. EVERY country has very ugly blemishes in its past. In the present, every country is full of “good” and evil people (law abiding vs. criminals). Lewis notes that when a country begins to intentionally suppress or erases its misdeeds they begin to express racial/national/ethnic superiority. We then find ourselves on the doorstep of racism and oppression. This is a very helpful section. This is pertinent because it helps us to understand what Jonah experienced in himself. Turning from grace he was in the throes of a toxic nationality that wanted to withhold God from other people groups.

Jesus purchased people from every tribe, tongue, nation and language. The gospel mission focuses on loving other people groups, not just your own. This is the heart of Jonah’s struggle and ours. Will we embrace the mystery of God’s mercy or will we try to bottle it up as exclusively for people just like us? Jonah doesn’t resolve that question in his life, because it isn’t fully resolved in the readers. The question is, what will you do next knowing that God cares about those people too?

In the future I hope to read Anthony Carter’s book on Jonah,Running From Mercy: Jonah and the Surprising Story of God’s Unstoppable Grace, which was released at about the same time.

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Finally! This was the reason I really bought the book. I’ve been pondering on how to foster evangelism among the members of my congregation, many of whom are introverts. Our congregation could be identified as “introverted.”

This does not relieve the congregation of the responsibility to bear witness to Christ. Jesus won’t say, “Oh, it’s okay. I know you are an introvert.”

But introversion will often shape how such a person and a congregation bears witness and evangelizes.

The term “evangelism” often strikes fear in the hearts of introverts. This is frequently due to false assumptions about what it must look like. We may picture open air preaching, or going door-to-door to talk to complete strangers. We think it means engaging the person next to us on the airplane. We think it requires the mental dexterity, speed of thought (not thoughtfulness) many of us lack.

For some people it does mean those things. Most of those people are quite extroverted. We see them doing their thing on YouTube, and they write the books on evangelism that make most of wish for the 2nd Advent, now.

“Truthfully, most introverted Christians I know would be delighted to bless the evangelistic efforts of extroverts and return to their lives of solitude and contemplation with a sigh of relief.”

In Introverts in the Church, McHugh notes that introverts must be wary of falling into a private understanding of our faith. But neither should we assume that we must evangelize like Billy Graham, the local expert in Evangelism Explosion or some other gifted evangelist you know. God doesn’t want you to be them, He wants to use YOU.

Evangelism isn’t about being the best “used car salesman” and closing the deal. I know people who seem to be “closers”, but most of us aren’t. We are ordinary people trying to be faithful and trusting that God is working thru, above and beyond our meager efforts.

McHugh proposes that we be people willing to explore mystery together rather than the salesman pitching salvation to people who didn’t think they needed it. This reveals some of his more emergent leanings (based on names he dropped earlier in the book). So it is difficult to differentiate between how he thinks introverts share the gospel and his postmodern leanings at times. Particularly this one.

There is also some confirmation bias for me. His approach is more relational, which confirms much of what I’ve been thinking. Introverts generally don’t talk to strangers, but as we grow in relationship we share more of ourselves, including our faith. Our faith is not shared out of our strength, but often out of our weakness. This treasure is in jars of clay. Our weakness often reveals the connection point for the gospel. This means witnessing is less confrontational (the gospel still confronts them even as it invites them).

“Our deepening friendships with seekers involve a deepening process of intimacy and vulnerability. … The gospel paradox is that when we reveal our own weaknesses, we come in touch, and put others in touch, with the One who has the ability to heal. … We subject ourselves to the same questions we pose to others, and as we traverse them together, we may arrive at surprising conclusions we could never have reached when simply trying to defeat another’s logic.”

His understanding of evangelism ends up looking very much like spiritual direction. He notes much changed for him when he started to realize he was not initiating spiritual conversations so much as responding to how God was already at work in that person’s life. It became about “cultivating spiritual awareness.” As I ponder this, the entry points may often be the places where they are emotional (angry, glad, anxious) or depressed.

Bearing witness to Christ, his sufferings and subsequent glories (1 Peter 1) can take different forms. At times it is confrontational as a person’s double-mindedness draws forth the bluntness of the Gospel (choose you this day…). I’ve had those conversations. At some point the person must believe or not, leaving their excuses behind. But leading up to that, you can leave plenty of hints or bits and pieces rather than a packaged gospel presentation.

In my own evangelism I should remember the lessons I should have learning in my counseling training. When encountering resistance, point it out. Don’t try to plow thru it with “shock and awe”. Rather, “you seem to be putting up some walls right now. What’s going on?”, inviting them to share their fears, doubts or whatever is going on, if they want to.

McHugh notes the quote often erroneously attributed to Francis of Assissi- “preach the gospel at all times- if necessary use words.” He fully affirms the need for words. He also reminds us that our words often need to be backed up by actions that adorn the gospel and make it attractive. We love them. After all, didn’t God love us when we were ungodly, weak, enemies and sinners (Romans 5)? Isn’t the gospel that God loved us first and sent the Son as an atoning sacrifice (1 John 3)? As a result, we can and should embrace a holistic approach to evangelism. Some may call that a “social gospel” but only if the goal isn’t the gospel. Many conservatives are allergic to “justice” or “mercy” as a part of evangelism. We are showing them justice and mercy so they will have a better grasp of who God is, not making justice and mercy the gospel. Nor calling them to justice and mercy apart from Christ who is just  and One in whom the ungodly are justified.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6

McHugh offers some more practical suggestions at the end of the chapter.

  1. Narrow your focus. Instead of trying to share the gospel with everyone you meet, develop a few relationships you already have. These are people you’ll be friends with whether or not they come to faith. But share that part of your life with them.
  2. Ask open ended questions. Don’t do it out of the blue or in a heavy handed fashion. They can be natural out-growths of your conversation or current events.
  3. Ask for time when you don’t have a good answer. It is okay if you need to research a question they ask. It shows humility, that you don’t have it all together and expect them to have it all together.
  4. Don’t accept the premise of their question. He gets this from Leo McGarry (West Wing chief of staff). This has to do with accusatory questions. Flip the question to challenge their premise. The example he gives is flipping “How can you possibly believe in a God who would condemn people to hell?” to “Perhaps the real question is how could humans rebel against a God who created such a beautiful world?” Not really the best example. Perhaps, “What do you suggest God do with wicked people?”
  5. Find a comfortable environment. You could invite them to Christianity Explored, or a Bible Study that investigates the claims of the gospel. Maybe discussion boards. Don’t debate. Explore.
  6. Know your role. You may not bring that person from darkness to light. You are, or should be, a part of a community of faith. Getting them in touch with your community is a great thing. A healthy body will contribute to the process according to each person’s gifts and strengths.

As I noted, much of this confirmed what I was thinking already. That might be helpful. I could have done without the postmodern approach at times. I’m not advocating modernism. But we can’t assume a person has a postmodern world view. Or that the best way to grasp the gospel is thru the postmodern lens. The Bible, and the gospel, transcend philosophical frameworks and actually challenge them. But that is a different discussion.

 

 

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Good and Angry: Letting Go of Irritation, Complaining, and BitternessWe all struggle with anger. It is part of the human experience. Some of us struggle more than others. And our struggle may be different. Some people struggle to show anger. Others are always a road rage incident waiting to happen. Books about anger are varied in their approach and their quality.

Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness by David Powlison is a new book about anger. It is one of the better books on the subject of anger.

He begins by identifying our problem with anger. It isn’t simply the guy with the red face, huffing and puffing while he yells at everyone. Anger is more nuanced than that. It is also expressed in irritation, frustration, complaining and arguing. When we have a more appropriate, more encompassing definition we see that we all have anger issues. He describes the various relationships we have with anger, and the lies we can believe about our anger. He spends time explaining that this book really is about you, and everyone else.

He then explains anger as a function of love. If you never get angry you really don’t love anything or anyone. This is why God gets angry: He loves. He loves His people. He also loves all that is good and holy. Anything that harms His people or violates His goodness is subject to His anger. He responds with anger. Because He is righteous, His anger is always in the proper measure and about the proper things. Ours? A mixed bag. Sometimes we are angry because our “rules” are broken, our kingdom threatened; not God’s. Or our anger is too much or too little for the sin in question.

This means that anger is “natural”, a part of being in the image of God. But like that image, it is now distorted because of our sinfulness.

Powlison moves into the constructive displeasure of mercy. It “holds out promises of forgiveness, inviting wrongdoers to new life.” Anger can motivate to destroy sin. But it can also motivate us in constructive directions like patience and forgiveness. Anger isn’t always given the final word, sometimes that word is forgiveness.

“God is love, and God is slow to anger. He intends to make us like himself. To be slow to anger means you are willing to work with wrong over time.”

He distinguishes, quite helpfully, between attitudinal forgiveness and transacted forgiveness. The first is about you. It does not require the other person to ask for forgiveness. It is about letting them off the hook, absorbing the loss so you no longer want to destroy them. This enables you to approach them to reconcile which is the essence of transacted forgiveness: reconciliation. You can forgive without being reconciled (with an abuser for instance). Remembering that it requires two to be reconciled, you can forgive even though the other person doesn’t want to be reconciled or admit they’ve done anything wrong.

“The attitudinal forgiveness means you can always deal with things that poison your own heart. Transacted forgiveness and actual reconciliation are desirable fruits, but not always attainable.”

He then moves into two other aspects of constructive displeasure: charity and constructive conflict. Charity is, in some ways, hard love or love in hard times. You continue to seek what is best for the other person. Constructive conflict moves toward the person to do that hard work of not simply reconciling, but addressing the sin that sabotages the relationship.

TImage result for frank underwoodhe chapter entitled Good and Angry? focuses on God and His anger. His anger fills the Bible because the Bible is filled with humanity’s rebellion. Our anger does not need to be suppressed, but remade, redeemed. He then moves to James 4 to help us explain why we get angry. We are looking out for ourselves and our kingdoms. I noted in my margin that “we are all Frank Underwood building our own house of cards.” He then moves us to the reality that God gives more grace and what change looks like.

Powlison than proposes 8 questions to take your anger apart so you can be put back together. These questions are attempts to apply what he’d been talking about from James 4.

He then has a series of chapters on tough cases: forgiving unspeakable sins, the everyday angers, being angry with yourself and angry with God. This was, in my opinion, some of the best material in the book. He addressed topics that aren’t often addressed, at least helpfully.

While this is a very good book, I thought the real strength was in the second half of the book. He uses questions at the end of each chapter to help you process and apply the material. I need to go back over those questions. Since anger is such a common problem this would be a helpful book for pastors, elders, parents and just about everyone. It is accessible, easy to understand and helpful. It is a helpful addition for your library.

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What is commonly called the Parable of the Dishonest Steward or Manager in Luke 16:1-9 has been called the hardest parable to interpret. Some of the people in our women’s ministry struggled with it. This is how I attempted to provide some assistance.

Preliminary Thoughts:
15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you (according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3

If Paul wrote things that are hard to understand, Jesus said things that are hard to understand. That should not surprise us, particularly in light of the quotations from Isaiah 6 regarding parables. See Mt. 13:14ff.

7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (WCF, I)

This is one of the least clear passages. It is probably most closely connected with the Parable of the Prodigal Sons by proximity and vocabulary, as well as the Unmerciful Servant.

He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
Is this Jesus’ commentary on the parable?
10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Robert Capon calls this the hardest parable in The Parables of Grace.
Capon sees the connection with the Prodigal Son in that both he and the dishonest manager were wasteful. Both then came to themselves after coming to the end of themselves: destitution and impending destitution. One went home to be received, the other tried to make a way to be received. One sought forgiveness thru humiliation of self, the other mercy by showing mercy.

Capon notes this is the reverse of the Unmerciful Servant. There mercy flows top down. Here it flows from the bottom up.

Capon sees the Dishonest Manager as a Christ-figure thru his “death”. He makes much of Christ as “sinner” for us. But that was by imputation, not by act. So … I’m not liking his move.

Leon Morris sees the parable in a group of teaching on money. It is not part of the series of parables on lost things (sheep, coin, sons). “This is notoriously one of the most difficult of all the parables to interpret.”

Many think Jesus was commending his decisiveness, not necessarily the actions themselves.

He puts the parable in context of the questionable practice of charging interest to fellow Israelites called usury. They argued that if the other Israelite had anything he wasn’t destitute and therefore could be charged interest in order to make money. This seems to be an unbiblical loophole.
The steward or manager would tack interest on to the bond on the original transaction. This manager, discovering he was about to be fired, actually removed the interest from the bonds, bringing the owner into compliance with the law, and gaining favor from the borrowers. The owner, in pursuing any claim would have to admit to usury. He admitted the man’s shrewedness.

This parable was spoken to his disciples, and not the Pharisees like Luke 15.

The take away for the disciples to was use the money they had, even if gained by questionable practices in the past, for spiritual purposes. Use it wisely for good purposes, just as worldly people use it wisely for their worldly purposes. Our faith should affect how we use our money (and gain it in the future). A good illustration of this would be the tax collector Levi.

In the follow up lesson we are not to put earthly treasure above eternal treasure. Choose whom you will serve- God or money- because you can’t serve both. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus we see the danger of serving money instead of God.

Wilcock notes that as this man was certain he was going to be fired, we all can be certain that we will die. We must make the right use of the opportunities life presents us. Use what belongs to this “present evil age” (unrighteous mammon) to gain an inheritance, a welcome, in the age to come.

Leon Morris’ analysis makes the best sense of the context to me. It also keeps Jesus from affirming dishonesty. This is one of the passages, being hard to understand, that we should be humblest about our interpretation.

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One of the newer challenges to God and the Scriptures is to question the morality of God, particularly in the Old Testament. Both atheists and liberal theologians are finding this to be a fertile field right now. It is this challenge that Greg Beale meets in his booklet The Morality of God in the Old Testament.

He does not simply dismiss the charges made by others that God is essentially immoral to command acts often considered evil. His response is a mere 40 or so pages. It is not easy reading, but rises to the challenge. He lays out a 5-fold approach that he believes answers this problem. But first he mentions 2 common, but unsatisfactory, responses.

  1. Wartime Ethics Are Legitimately Different from Peacetime Ethics. Tied into this is the fact that we tend to judge the Scriptures based on our wartime ethics. As late as Vietnam we had no problem engaging in carpet bombing. In more recent conflicts we are loathe to harm civilians (unless using drones) in policies that often put our soldiers at risk. We are concerned about perception and ignore the reality of the threat they face in conflict. But this booklet isn’t about that ethical dilemma. While it is common for us to speak of a wartime ethic, Scripture doesn’t seem to offer us one explicitly.
  2. The Divine Command to Kill All Women and Children Is Not Meant to be Taken Literally.  Some argue that documents  from the ANE use exaggerated language in describing conquest similar to this. It refers essentially to thoroughly defeating the enemy. It functions as a rhetorical device. However, the Scriptures clearly indicate that particular people, like Rahab, were spared because they aligned themselves with Israel. Others escaped. So this argument does not seem to hold.

His proposed 5-fold approach tries to look at the problem from different angles. It is not a simplistic answer to the questions raised by atheists, agnostics and liberals. It is, I think, a thorough answer.

  1. The Commands Demonstrate God’s Justice in Response to Their Immorality and Idolatry in a Unique Redemptive-Historical Circumstance. That is a mouthful! During Abraham’s years in the Promised Land, we are told the Canaanites’ sin was not yet full. God was not ready to judge them. See how patient He is with societies and cultures. It was not that Abraham’s family wasn’t big enough, but they hadn’t sinned enough yet. By the time of the conquest they had. God was not just giving Israel the land, but judging the Canaanites. This is unique because there is no other Promised Land that needs to be conquered. The commands were not binding, but tied to the circumstances of the conquest. He was using the Israelites to execute His justice against them (just as He would Assyria against the Northern Kingdom and Babylon, and later Rome, against Judah). Everyone died because everyone was guilty and part of an utterly corrupt culture.
  2. The Commands Were to Remove Moral Uncleanness as Part of a Unique Redemptive-Historical Commission to Purify the Land as a Sanctuary. He goes back to the Garden and the Creation Mandate. Adam was to expand the borders of the Garden as a sanctuary for God. Israel was to treat the Land as a sanctuary. They were a corporate form of Adam as a kingdom of priests. After the conquest, the civil law laid out severe penalties for those guilty of similar sexual and cultic sins as the Canaanites.
  3. God’s Sovereignty Justifies His Command to Annihilate the Canaanites. As the Scriptures teach, He will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy and hardens whom He will harden. And judge too!. God is free to deal with us as He chooses. While we may be relatively better or worse that other people, in God’s eyes we are all sinners who fall short of His glory and have earned the wages of sin which are death. God is free to annihilate any nation He wants to annihilate. We usually see His patience and mercy, and therefore presume upon them as if they were required of Him.
  4. God’s Command is an Anticipation of the End-Time Judgment of All People, and Thus a Suspension of the Expression of His Common Grace to Unbelievers during the Epoch of Israel. This is pretty much Kline’s intrusion ethic. This is an intrusion of the final judgment in which God will annihilate all who are not His. This is not the only type of the final judgment we see in Scripture. We also see the destruction of Samaria, Judah, Babylon, Assyria and other nations. There is evidence for this in how the NT uses the OT in judgment passages.
  5. God’s Command and the Imprecatory Psalms Anticipate the End-Time Judgment When Love of the Unbelieving Neighbors Ceases. While we are to love our neighbor now, in the final judgment we will not love all our neighbors but only those who love Christ as we do. God’s mercy and patience toward unbelievers reaches an end. He reveals His holy hatred for sin and the wicked.

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No, this is not about climate change.

This is about a different kind of climate change. This is about the current climate in churches regarding homosexuality. Peter Hubbard is not only concerned about how individual Christians interact with homosexuals, but how congregations interact with, talk about and treat homosexuals. As a result, there as a chapter in Love Into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual and the Church called Climate.

He begins by building a good analogy. In Revelation Jesus is revealed as the Lion who is a Lamb. He is a King as well as a Priest who sacrifices Himself. There is both strength and tenderness, righteousness and compassion. The Church is intended to reflect His glory and His character. Churches are tempted to focus on only one side of Christ and present a false face to the world, and homosexuals about who Christ is and what He thinks about them.

“When we talk as if homosexuals do not belong in the church, we misrepresent the gospel in at least three ways: “We are not sinners, you are,” “Sin comes in acceptable forms and unacceptable forms,” and “You will belong here only after you get your act together.” Each of these assumptions denies the power and process of the grace of Christ for real and lasting change.”

As an example of a “church” (and I use this term quite loosely) that is fixated on Christ as Lion, Hubbard gives Westboro Baptist Church. They stress the righteousness and justice of God, rightly calling sin sin. But they have no gospel (which is why I use the term church loosely). They think they have the ministry of condemnation, when we’ve actually been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5).

This kind of church, or Christian, focuses on the sinfulness side of things. There is an “us vs. them” mentality as though all homosexuals were militant activists seeking to destroy the Church. He recalls a time when a guest began to talk about homosexuals using stereotypes as though he’d get some laughs. He didn’t. This kind of church likes using the labels to ostracize people, keep them out because we don’t like “them.”

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The question of an individual’s relationship to the state is an important one. The answer reflects how one views the state and its responsibilities. Christians have given many answers to this question. In his discussion of the 5th Commandment in The Doctrine of the Christian Life, John Frame gives the answers that various traditions have given.

Frame is of the opinion that the state is essentially the government of an incredibly large family. Such large scale government is far more complex than governing a nuclear or even extended family., In places like Romans 13 we see that God has ordained the State, it is not an accident or human invention (though there have been developments that are the product of human thinking). As Christians, we have dual citizenship. Becoming a Christian does not mean rejecting your earthly citizenship. Paul remained a Roman citizen. We should seek to be good citizens of both kingdoms.

In early non-Christian thought, there was the tendencies toward elitism and libertarianism. Frame notes that the rationalist moved toward totalitarianism. We see this in Greek thinking about the state. Some were born to rule, and some were born to be slaves. Plato’s Republic was not democracy, but ruled by philosopher kings. This was not what the Founding Fathers had in mind. But there is a strong tendency toward totalitarianism among political elites today. They know better than the hoi poloi, the masses. Machiavelli, for one, argued that rulers should increase their own glory thru non-traditional (immoral) means to accomplish their goals. This ends justifies the means thinking is prominent in the big government crowd.

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Only one set of sins has its own chapter in The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung. He does not address that set of sins because it is popular to do so (in some circles it is easy to do so).

He addresses them for two reasons. The first is their connection to union in Christ, which Paul draws out in 1 Corinthians 6. The second is that they seem to be the blind spot for the contemporary American Christian. That might not seem obvious to us. Each generation and culture has its blind spots. Earlier generations had a blind spot on issues of race. That is one reason the practice was able to flourish in largely Christian nations. That was why Jim Crow laws and other manifestations of systematic racism were common in this nation in which most people would classify themselves as a Christian.

Sexual sins surround us. Part of Kevin’s point is that while we still call the most grievous manifestations sin (few Christians refuse to call adultery and pornography use sinful) but we have seen an erosion of our sexual mores that represents a significant departure from the biblical standard. Things like fornication, nudity in movies, songs encouraging non-marital sex etc. have become so common place that we are not shocked anymore, and don’t seem to mind them.

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Sunday night I boarded a flight with my son. The flight would take us to LA despite the fact that his first name and our last name was misspelled (Cavellaro it isn’t). That trip would result in surgery.

Apparently I still can’t focus my iPhone

CavSon was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate in 2006. In 2007, while still in China, his lip was repaired. After we adopted him in 2008, we had his palate repair and then revised. He will need a bone graft after his baby teeth are gone and the adult teeth are in. In light of this, we applied to the Shriners’ Hospital cleft team. The surgeon took a quick peek and said “he needs some surgery.” He was originally slated for surgery in November, the first opening the surgeon had at Shriners’. A few weeks ago we got a call informing us that there was a cancellation.  Suddenly, he was scheduled for May 7th.

CavSon was understandably nervous. He wasn’t looking forward to being apart from his mom and sister. But none of us expected what happened. A 3 hour surgery took about 6 hours. There was more extensive work done than we expected. To do that, the surgeon met some unexpected issues. In addition to elongating his palate (so he can make more sounds for his speech), there was some revision to the hard palate, as well as his lip (yet again). It is hard, at times, to sort our what is necessary and important and what is a result of the surgeon’s perfectionism. I’m just a parent, a pastor etc. You just aren’t sure.

With the length and extent of the surgery, CavSon did not rebound as quickly as he did in 2008. He was just a mess. I know it was irrational, but I felt like I’d failed my son, miserably. It was heartbreaking to watch those tears slowly slide down those cheeks intermittently. It didn’t help that he looked like he’d lost a battle with a baseball bat. Swollen, sutured and scabbed he was.

I won’t bore you with the stories of the vomiting up blood, my endless search for sleep, how little food I was able to eat and the joy of holding his bedpan.

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One of the phrases that sticks with me from The Meaning of Marriage is that of future glory. Keller points to places like Ephesians 5 to contemplate this idea of our future glory.

25  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Jesus gave himself up for the church for a few reasons mentioned here (and others elsewhere). He sets her apart. He has cleansed her in order to present her to himself. Her new condition is one of splendor, without blemish. Paul is mentioning the future glory of the church. And this is to be the model for the husband, to consider the future glory of his own wife.

I’m currently editing my own book on marriage, and grappling with this passage. We tend to get stuck in the tension between their dignity as image bearers and their depravity as sinners. Each of us tends to err in one or the other extreme. We can focus on their dignity so much that we idealize them, worship them and don’t address the sin they do commit. It is almost like you remain forever in that infatuation phase when all you see is what is good about a person and not their faults and failings.

But most people who are married for any length of time tend to slowly drift toward the other extreme. Their failures and faults loom large since we see them on display regularly. We grow weary of these things, apart from grace.

This grace is two-fold. First, there is forgiveness. No marriage, or any relationship, can survive without forgiveness. It is like grace’s in-door plumbing system. It refreshes those how are guilty, and removes our “waste” from the relationship. Without it the relationship begins to look like one of those houses in Hoarders, filled with animal excrement, mold and filth. It is an assault on one’s senses. Forgiving one another is rooted in Christ’s atonement. Paul goes there at the end of Ephesians 4. Since we have received grace from God, we are to grace one another. We forgive because we have been forgiven!

Second, there is contemplating their future glory. Your spouse will not always remain as they are now. In our saner moments we notice how much God has changed them already. My wife sees this most clearly whenever we spend time with my family. I am increasingly less like them.

But we also need hope, and God provides that in passages like this. All of the members of Christ’s bride will appear before him in splendor, without blemish. We need to keep this thought before us. He or she will one day be just like Jesus in their character. Their personality will remain, in purified form, but they will no longer have their faults and failings. Their blemishes will be gone.

And one of the means that God uses to accomplish this, one set of circumstances in which he applies the work of Christ, is marriage. If you are married, this is probably the primary place. He has others, so if you are single don’t worry, he’ll apply them to you as well. You are one of the means as you increasingly treat their sin as Jesus does. Yes, you become a living representative of Jesus to them as one in whom the image of God is being restored. You are patient, merciful and yet firm with their sin. You call them out, AND to repentance on the basis of God’s mercy in Christ. You aren’t doing it to win an argument or keep them in their place so you can feel superior. You are pursuing their sanctification with humility and love.

In our community group recently I also applied this to our experience with the church. We often begin our time at a church in an infatuation phase. The pastor’s sermons are awesome, people friendly etc. Eventually we being to see their sin. We begin to be sinned against. What do we do? Depends. If we are not actively impacted by grace, we get angry and leave. But grace enables us to forgive the sins of the local church and contemplate (as well as pursue) her future glory.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1

Paul here contemplates that future glory with regard to the Philippian church. God is the one who began this, and will finish it. Paul rested in that. We need to as well. If we are sure of this, like Paul was, we can be patient and merciful with our fellow church members- forgiving them, correcting them, offering them mercy in the midst of their sin.

If we don’t, our church life will become like so many marriages: cold, distant, lifeless and ending in divorce.

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Since my current sermon series from Genesis includes the idea of relationships, I decided it would be a good time to read Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp. Of course, when you take a few months to read a book it is not as fresh in your mind when you come to review it.

The book is not long (under 200 pages), but it does cover quite a bit of territory. The chapters include ones on sin, agendas, worship, obstacles, mercy, time and money and more. They cover that ground, as usual, with lots of Scripture and many examples compiled from years of experience in ministry as well as their personal lives. Thankfully, it does have a Scripture Index (one of my pet peeves is to not have one).

The first chapter talks about their relationship with one another. There have been times when they haven’t got along well. They have struggled through many of these things.  So, they speak from personal experience, not as merely teaching theory.

They begin with the reasons why to invest in relationships. The most important, in my opinion, is that since we are made in God’s image we are made to be in relationship. God Himself has eternally existed in relationship with Himself. The Trinity is a community of love. He made us to bring us into that loving community. But since we rejected the spring of living water, we make our relationships into broken cisterns from which we expect to receive life. Sin, including idolatry, have messed things up.

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A few years ago I came across The Great Work of the Gospel: How We Experience God’s Grace by John Ensor.  It intrigued me.  John works in establishing pregnancy centers worldwide.  He lives in Boston as well.  So for years I’ve been meaning to buy and read this book.  Something always seemed to be more important at the time.  Until recently.  I picked up a copy about 2 months ago and decided to read it since I was beginning a series on the atonement for Lent.

I’m sorry I waited, but the book was timely in light of the whole Rob Bell thing.  The Christian should treat grace like a scientist treats gravity: not merely accepting its reality, but want to understand its totality.  As recipients of grace, we explore grace that our hearts might be more captured by it and more grateful for it.  To adapt an old saying, unexamined grace isn’t worth having.  This is because to understand grace is to understand Christianity.  How can you be a Christian without wanting to understand it?

“The grace of God that forgives us changes us. … The grace of God wounds our pride but then increases our confidence.  When God forgives, he exposes the most shameful things only to then cleanse them all from our conscience.”

Let’s stop for a moment.  Some personal context to lay my cards on the table.  I grew up Catholic.  I have a Ph.D. in guilt: true and false.  I am a recovering Pharisee who couldn’t keep his own high standards, much less God’s.  There are MANY things I don’t want you to know about me.  There are things only a privileged (and I use that term loosely) know about me.

But I have no interest in cheap grace, or cheap forgiveness.  I’m not trying to ignore God’s standards.  Neither is Ensor following the fashion of the day.  He structures the book on the topic of the Great Work.  When we own up to our guilt, we desire forgiveness and grace.  But if we never own up to guilt, then grace seems pretty much irrelevant.  In all of the chapters, Ensor examines a variety of biblical texts and addresses numerous misconceptions.  In the chapter on desiring grace, for instance, he tackles self-esteem and the reality of the conscience.

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I don’t think anything could prepare us for what happened in Japan.  It is a perfect storm of disaster that would make Irwin Allen proud.  I thought we’d seen the worst disasters possible, but we apparently hadn’t.  One of the most powerful earthquakes on record, a tsunami and the possibility of Chernobyl.

I’m reading a book about prayer that talks about helplessness.  This picture, sadly, captures that reality more powerfully than any I have ever seen.

We need to pray for the people of Japan.  Money does not fix something like this.  That doesn’t mean we should not provide resources for emergency relief.  But rebuilding the soul of Japan will take far longer than rebuilding the nation.  And rebuilding the nation may take close to a generation (ask New Orleans).

To put this in perspective, this was a nation that somehow recovered from WWII to become one of the most productive economies in the world.  They enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the world.  But they have been brought to their knees, this time by the groaning of creation triggered by the sin of Adam.

It reveals just how close we are to the edge.  Life can change in a New York minute.  And when it does, there is not simple fix.  We all live by grace, common grace, whether we realize it or not.  We live by the sheer mercy of God.  Let us throw ourselves into the hands of a merciful and compassionate God, even as we intercede at the throne of grace for the people of Japan.  We pray to One who was torn asunder, but conquered death.  He can give hope to those on the brink of death.  He can give hope to Japan.

 

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The wrong pipe broke.  It was just one of those things you could not predict nor prevent.

The ceiling vomited on the kitchen.

Last week Tucson experienced some record-breaking cold.  I had a flashback to last winter in Winter Haven.  I was still at Ace and plumbing and irrigation parts were flying out faster than pizzas on Super Bowl day.  We had run out of heaters, and the supply in the entire SE was depleted.

So, as a result of the cold many people here had pipes freeze.  Some of those broke.  The cold also affected the natural gas supply.  So thousands in Tucson were without water, heat or both.  Here at the church we took precautions to prevent the pipes outside from freezing.  All was well when I left Thursday night (except my sermon that is).  I had Friday off.  Usually my administrative assistant is in on Fridays, but she had car trouble was planned on getting in on Saturday.

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I just finished reading Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just.  I was going to do a single review of this book.  But, there were too many important things that stood out to me.  So, there will be a few posts on this book.

A quick review though: Keller’s book is a more theoretical companion to his earlier book, Ministries of Mercy: the Call of the Jericho Road.  It is too short of a book as I was left wanting more.  I consider it an important read, one which may challenge some of your assumptions about justice.  I highly recommend it.

He wrote the book for a few audiences.  One was the group of young Christians who have a highly developed social conscience.  They are concerned about justice, but it doesn’t seem to alter their personal choices.  He seeks to connect their faith with their desire to help people in need.  Another was those conservative Christians who are suspicious of talk of justice.  They separate justice from sound doctrine and spiritual dynamism.  Scripture teaches that justice flows from them.  He also writes to those younger evangelicals who have put aside sound doctrine to pursue social justice.  Lastly, he writes for non-Christians who think that Christians poison everything.  He wants to give them a biblical vision for life and godliness that encompasses justice.

8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

This is an important passage in the first chapter which explores justice.  Justice would appear to be anything but voluntary for a believer in Christ.  If we love God’s mercy, or faithful love (it is the Hebrew word chesedh) we are also to act justly.  The love is the motive of the justice.  God is both chesedh, or agape in the Greek, and just.  He is not one or the other.  He is both, and calls us to be both as well.  We act justly because we love mercy.

Mishpat, then, is giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care. … mishpat describes taking up the care and cause of the widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor- those who have been called the “quartet of the vulnerable.”

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Glenn Beck has spread lots of heat, but not much light, on the issue of social justice.  The topic is confusing, particularly since people mean different things by the term.  But the Bible clearly teaches that God is concerned about social justice (just read the Minor Prophets) and that we should be too (try Isaiah too).

Social Justice is a slogan that has been co-opted by any number of groups.  What Beck is afraid of is the kind that is preached by politicians.  Politicians often take the duty of the church and apply it to the state in an effort to get people dependent upon the state (since they don’t believe there is a God anyway).

Some theologians have separated social justice from the gospel.  I don’t mean we are nice to people so we can preach the gospel to them.  I mean that social justice flows out of the gospel.

That means that as the work of Christ is applied to me by the Spirit, I become more like Christ in my character and concerns.  I will act justly and love mercy (Micah 6), as I walk humbly with my God.

This means that social justice is also an expression of the gospel.  It is a foretaste of the new heavens and new earth.  It reveals something (not everything) of God’s heart.

There have been a number of books that have recently come out concerned with social justice.  I haven’t read any of them, but some guys I read have.

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I’ve been making my way through Ezekiel.  It has taken a little longer than expected.  I took my preaching Bible to Arizona, not my current devotional Bible.  Then came the cold that turned into a sinus infection.  I’m still not done, but some things have caught my eye.

One of the most common phrases is “then they will know that I am YHWH”.  The vast majority of time it occurs in the context of judgment.  Basically, after God’s wrath utterly destroys them (Israel, Egypt, Tyre, Edom etc.) then they will know that He is God.

Sounds pretty dismal, doesn’t it?  Humanity is engaged in a flight from accountability.  When people are finally held accountable, they know that He is God and they cannot avoid Him.  They, too, will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord though they love Him not.

But there are glimmers of hope, like in Ezekiel 34.  He speaks of the coming restoration after the exile.  He will no longer rely on human shepherds (prophets, priests and kings) but will Himself gather His lost sheep and protect them.  He did this in Jesus, the ultimate and final Prophet, Priest and King.

They will know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them.  (NIV)

It is not just judgment that opens our eyes to the fact that He is God.  Mercy does as well.  All will know that Jesus is Lord.  Some will know it because they have tasted His mercy.  The rest because they have experienced His just wrath.

In the words of my professor, Steve Brown, you think about that.

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With my search for a new pastoral call pretty much over, I would be remiss to not express gratitude for God and his many blessings through this long trial.

So, I’m grateful for:

  • Jesus my Great High Priest, who sits upon the throne of grace that I might receive mercy and grace in my times of need (Hebrews 4).  Indeed, a bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not put out.
  • The Father was teaching me to rely not on myself but on Him who raises the dead (1 Corinthians 1).
  • The Father’s “manna” from heaven that sustained us, inexplicably, through a long period of un/under-employment.  He used so many people, in so many ways, to provide for us.  We never missed a meal or a mortgage payment.
  • For granting repentance regarding the idols He revealed in His occasionally severe mercy.
  • For my wife.  We were on the same page 97% of the time.  She was supportive.  I’ve seen many marriages really struggle in a time like this.  Ours didn’t.
  • For my kids.  During this time we adopted CavSon without incurring any debt, and saw him through 3 surgeries without incurring any debt.  They bring much joy to our hearts, often helping us to keep things in perspective (sorry daddy was so grouchy sometimes).
  • For brothers, past and present, who wrote books that encouraged me including Tim Keller, Sinclair Ferguson, Richard Sibbes, John Newton and John Piper.
  • For all the brothers and sisters who prayed for us, encouraged us and showed us kindness.  This includes the friends I made on search committees that chose someone else.  Some blessed our times of fellowship with good beer which didn’t ordinarily fit my budget.
  • For the worship music of Jars of Clay, Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman and Indelible Grace for reminding me of the gospel when I was prone to fix my eyes upon my circumstances.
  • For the many churches that welcomed me into their pulpits.  It was great to meet so many people, serve them and be encouraged by them.

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